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Walgreens' Refusal to Sell Plan B to Men: Stupid, and Illegal

Walgreens (WAG) recently embarrassed itself when one of its Texas pharmacists refused to supply the emergency contraceptive Plan B to a man who was buying it for his girlfriend. The man had to get it from CVS, and Walgreens received a public slap down from the ACLU.

The lesson: not properly educating employees about the law can cost you customers and result in some very bad PR.

The law surrounding Plan B, made by Teva (TEVA), isn't completely obvious. The 2006 approval was "for women aged 18 and older" and a 2009 update changed that to "women 17 and older." Walgreens sent out a reminder to its employees in July that Plan B was to be sold to both men and women, however;so its staff have no excuse.

It's a non-prescription product so it ought to be as widely available as Tylenol or Advil. But because the product has something to do with sex, logic and facts often get tossed out of the window. In fact, illogic has been the entire history of Plan B. It was approved by an FDA advisory panel that was stacked with pro-life appointees who were not there for their scientific expertise but their political leanings. The Department of Health and Human Services then passed a rule allowing doctors and pharmacists to withhold the drug from rape victims if they wanted to follow their political or religious beliefs. A competing version, Ella by Watson Pharma (WPI), was branded an abortion drug even though neither product causes abortions.

In the Walgreens case, the pharmacist expressed concern that the man, Adam Drake, might use Plan B to spike a woman's drink. Sure, it could happen. In theory. But then a woman could buy it for the same purpose also, so the pharmacists' speculation is no substitute for proper patient care. This illustrates the downside of allowing employees to ignore the law (or the science) in favor of their own snap morality judgments on customers: They're usually wrong.


Image by Flickr user skampy, CC.